Telegram to hit one billion users within a year, founder says


FILE PHOTO: Founder and CEO of Telegram Pavel Durov delivers a keynote speech during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Albert Gea/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) -The Telegram messaging app, one of the most popular social media platforms, will likely cross one billion active monthly users within a year as it is spreading like "forest fire", its billionaire founder Pavel Durov said on Tuesday.

Telegram, based in Dubai, was founded by Russian-born Durov, who left Russia in 2014 after he refused to comply with demands to shut down opposition communities on his VK social media platform, which he sold.

"We'll probably cross one billion monthly active users within a year now," Durov, who fully owns Telegram, told U.S. journalist Tucker Carlson according to a video interview posted on Carlson's account on the X social media platform.

"Telegram is spreading like forest fire."

Durov, who is estimated by Forbes to have a fortune of $15.5 billion, said some governments had sought to pressure him but the app, which has now 900 million active users, should remain a "neutral platform" and not a "player in geopolitics".

One of Telegram's main rivals, Meta Platforms' WhatsApp, has more than two billion monthly active users. The Financial Times reported in March that Telegram would likely aim for a U.S. listing once the company had reached profitability.

Telegram, which is particularly influential in the republics of the former Soviet Union, is ranked as one of the major social media platforms, after Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, TikTok and Wechat.

After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Telegram has become the main source of unfiltered - and sometimes graphic and misleading - content from both sides about the war and the politics surrounding the conflict.

INFORMATION WARS

Durov said he came up with the idea of an encrypted messaging app as a way to communicate while he was under pressure in Russia. His younger brother, Nikolai, designed the encryption.

Durov said he left Russia because he could not accept orders from any government, and dismissed a question about claims that Telegram was controlled by Russia as a false rumour spread by his competitors worried about Telegram's growth.

"I would rather be free than to take orders from anyone," Durov said about his exit from Russia and search for a home for his company which included stints in Berlin, London, Singapore and San Francisco.

He said the bureaucracy, especially for hiring global talent, in those places was too onerous and that he was attacked on the street in San Francisco by men who tried to steal his phone.

More alarming, he said, he received too much attention from U.S. security agencies including from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He said U.S. agencies tried to hire one of his engineers to find a backdoor into the platform. The FBI did not reply to a request for comment out of U.S. business hours.

When it comes to freedom of speech, though, he said the biggest challengers were not governments but major competitors such as Apple and Alphabet's Google.

"Those two platforms, they could basically censor everything you can read, access on your smart phone," Durov said, adding that they had told Telegram that if it failed to comply with their guidelines then it would be removed from their stores.

He said he had opted for the United Arab Emirates as it was a "neutral country" that wants to be friends with everyone and was not aligned with any of the superpowers, so he felt it was the best place for a "neutral platform".

Telegram, he said, was used by both opposition campaigners and governments but would take no sides.

"The competition of different ideas can result in progress and a better world for everyone," Durov said.

He said that, beyond money or Bitcoin, he had no major property such as real estate, jets or yachts, as he wanted to be free.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Lisbon and Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Mark Potter)

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